Connected Conversations | Melissa Arnold-Chamney

Adelaide Nursing School’s Melissa Arnold-Chamney leads a busy life. On top of being the Year 3 Lead for the Bachelor of Nursing, Melissa is also a part-time PhD student and full-time mother to her 10-year-old son and naughty cat, Horacio. She hopes that her research into improving health care for our Aboriginal communities helps to catalyse positive change in cultural disparities across Australia.

Melissa Arnold-Chamney

Please tell us a little bit about yourself. 

My name is Melissa and I am a lecturer specialising in nephrology (kidney health).  I am the Year 3 Lead and Course Coordinator within the pre-registration Bachelor of Nursing program. I am also a mother of an amazing 10-year-old son who is great at painting (unlike his mother). I am also the carer of my son’s very pampered and naughty cat, Horacio! The other part of my life is spent undertaking a PhD in ‘Enhancing cultural safety in Aboriginal kidney care – a participatory action research involving healthcare staff and Aboriginal patient experts’

I commenced my time at the University of Adelaide in January 2016 in the Adelaide Nursing School. I am a member of the Adelaide Education Academy Executive and the Study Tour Lead for the third-year nursing students. As part of this position, I usually travel to Kobe, Japan each February with some of our students. Externally, I am the Deputy Editor for the Renal Society of Australasia Journal (RSAJ), having previously been the Editor-in-Chief from 2016-2020.

What has been your journey to get where you are today? 

I completed a Diploma of Nursing at the South Australian College of Advanced Education and then worked at Flinders Medical Centre for five years whilst continuing with further university study. During this time, I worked in a few clinical areas before my interest drew me to the renal specialty. I then moved to the UK and worked in renal units across London for the next six years. This was a great experience and also allowed me the time to travel around Europe with girlfriends for long weekends and see places I had only read about previously. 

On returning to Australia, I worked as a Nurse Educator at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital for three years. My plan was to stay here and develop an advanced renal nursing course like I had undertaken in the UK. Alas, I went to a renal conference in Brisbane and met the keynote speaker, who had flown in from the UK. Before I knew it, I returned to the UK and married him!

Following my move back to the UK, I worked at City, University of London for 12 years — firstly, as the Renal Lecturer, and then, as Senior Lecturer and Program Director for Adult Nursing. In January 2016, I returned home to Adelaide and commenced work at the University of Adelaide.

My research interest ignited in Aboriginal healthcare and, in 2018, I was fortunate to commence work on the AKction: Aboriginal Kidney Care Together — Improving Outcomes Now project. This experience has allowed me to gain and develop insight into Aboriginal patient and family needs over the past two years. I also gained new colleagues and friends as well as four amazing PhD supervisors to assist me with my next journey, which involves a deeper understanding of Aboriginal patients, their families, and their understanding of what cultural safety means to them. Taking the time to build relationships with the Aboriginal Reference Team allows me to co-design kidney care tools with members and to communicate and transfers these tools and ways of working to our renal health care staff. It’s fundamental for the dominant culture (white Australians) to understand the intergenerational impact of colonisation on Aboriginal peoples, their organisations, and their communities. We need to step aside and make way for Aboriginal healthcare experts, Aboriginal ways of knowing, being, and doing, including acknowledging the power imbalances that occur. Otherwise, nothing will change.

What do you love most about working at the University of Adelaide?

I am based in the Adelaide Health and Medical Sciences (AHMS) building. Although the open plan environment took a while to get used to, it is something that provides me with opportunities to collaborate with staff from other schools, which I would otherwise not had the opportunity to do.

Melissa Arnold-Chamney

What are you working on now? 

Since starting my PhD, I have spent the past few months gaining clarity and understanding cultural safety from Aboriginal people. Time spent unpacking what this means in practice has enabled me to commence my thesis background scoping!  I am privileged to be supported by some amazing Aboriginal colleagues and friends who are guiding me to gain understandings into working respectfully and alongside Aboriginal people. To step away from the dominant culture of Australia and have access to people from one of the oldest cultures in the world is such a powerful experience. I am also one of the researchers in AKction 2 which builds on AKction, where Aboriginal patients and their families are involved in community consultations and patient journey mapping to inform renal care and clinical guideline development. The Aboriginal Reference Team and work colleagues continue to provide an advisory and consultation role, identifying barriers and gaps in care journeys as well as providing input into my PhD and my own personal learning journey.

What inspired you to pursue a career in health? 

I am not sure what inspired me, as it is something that I just always wanted to do. I did work experience when I was 15 at the Repatriation General Hospital for a week and decided then and there that this was the career for me. I have never wished for a different career and am just as passionate about ensuring patients and their families have a positive healthcare journey as I was when I commenced my studies at university in 1987.

Have you ever had a life-changing experience? 

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world as we know it and, on a personal level, it has meant the loss of family members of some of my friends overseas. My son has also not seen his father, who lives in the UK, for almost two years now and there is no end in sight for him to see his dad again until at least 2022, at the earliest. This leads me to live a ‘Groundhog Day’ of being his only parent, something I am very proud to do. It has also meant I have taken up a casual position with SA Health, giving COVID-19 vaccinations to the public in some of my spare time. I’m hoping to help the community get vaccinated so we can get off this wonderful island at some stage and travel again.

What’s something most people don’t know about you?

In 1999, I was on holiday in Moscow and a motorcade stopped near me in Red Square and men in suits and earpieces got out of these large cars followed by Al Gore, who was Vice President of America at the time. I got to meet and have a photograph with him! I also had the opportunity to attend a Garden Party at Buckingham Palace with my father in 2008, which was lots of fun.

What’s the motto that you live by? 

‘When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping!’

Usually to Burnside Village — so much so that my nickname at work is ‘Miss Burnside’!

What opportunities do you see for the future? 

Aboriginal patients, and community members being in leadership and providing Indigenous governance, with active involvement in key decision making within teaching, research and health care redesign. 

What do you hope to achieve in the next 10 years? 

I’d love to have my PhD completed and to have achieved positive outcomes within clinical practices in renal care in Australia. As a white Australian woman, with Scottish heritage, I have health outcomes that are very different to those of my Aboriginal colleagues and their families. Equitable access to culturally-safe care for Australia’s oldest living culture(s) in is fundamental. I will work for systemic change to occur, and I hope that the AKction research movement that I am involved in helps to make a difference in Aboriginal people’s lives so that the next generation of Aboriginal people are nurtured, respected, and treated with dignity to have the same health outcomes as white Australians.

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